Dani men help a foreign visitor on slippery tracks.
Hiking trails are convoluted and often wet and slippery, so a guide and hiking boots are equally useful travel accessories, though not essential. If you are not wild about having sweet potatoes for three meals a day, critical foodstuffs, such as chocolate and peanut butter can be found in Wamena, supplemented – with luck – by vegetables bought on the trail and cooked by your faithful retainer – in his own pots and pans. Alcohol is not available in any form in the valley.
Me traveling optimistically across a river to get to the Dani village.
Weather: Indonesia’s Baliem Valley is warm and wet for much of the year. January to March is supposed to be the most comfortable season. July and August are the busy months; less seats, less rooms, more travelers, more expense.
Wamena, Baliem’s main town, and the market area in particular, is an agreeable introduction to the Dani, but for the real thing you should travel around the Balim and adjoining valleys, taking at least two or three days, and staying in Dani villages – almost certainly in the men’s hut.
Guides: An experienced English-speaking guide with some knowledge of Dani language is vital for a full exploration of such an alien environment.
Few Dani people speak English and inter-clan rivalries may affect their information and en-route contacts, so unfortunately some of the best guides are from other islands in Indonesia, such as Sulawesi, and not natives of the culture at all.
A Dani widow with one finger joint removed for every deceased relative. She’s wearing a traditional Bilum bag strung from her head, ready to stash any useful wild or cultivated foods she comes across. Baliem Valley, West Papua.